Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), may have started his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career under the most difficult circumstances of any driver in the history of the sport – circumstances that might have broken others under the scrutiny and weight of the situation.
Just eight days after the untimely passing of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, team owner Richard Childress made the decision to place a 25-year-old Harvick at the wheel of what became the No. 29 car after its original number was changed from No. 3 in honor of the fallen champion.
Harvick made his first career NASCAR Cup Series start on Monday, February 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. It was a race delayed until Monday afternoon due to rain the previous day. He qualified 36th and recorded a 14th-place result in his first time behind the wheel of the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing.
At Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Harvick will make his 600th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
In the 599 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts since his first, Harvick has accomplished a legacy all his own. He went on to become the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, and he’s recorded 36 wins at NASCAR’s highest level, which ranks 22nd all time.
In addition to his 36 wins, Harvick has 50 runner-up finishes, which ranks 10th all time. His 21 Cup Series poles tie him for 37th all time. His ninth-place finish last week at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway gave him an even 300 top-10 finishes for his Cup Series career – 20th-most all-time. He also ranks 17th in series history with 10,808 laps led.
As Harvick heads into his 600th Cup Series start Saturday night at Richmond, he finds himself in unfamiliar territory at this point in the season. For the first time since 2014, he will enter the race without a chance to score the most points during the 26-race regular season.
In 2016, the Bakersfield, California native scored more points than any other driver through the first 26 races, finishing 42 markers ahead of runner-up Brad Keselowski. In 2015 he finished the regular season 30 points ahead of second-place Joey Logano. The only difference is that this year’s regular-season champion, Martin Truex Jr., received an additional 15 playoff points for his effort as the scoring system was changed during the offseason to reward the regular-season champion.
With only Richmond remaining before the start of this year’s Playoffs, Harvick still would like to add his second Cup Series win of the season Saturday night. He scored his first of the year at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June, and picked up an additional three stage wins to secure eight playoff points to start the playoffs next week at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
He only needs to attempt to qualify Friday at Richmond to make his playoff status official.
While Harvick and the No. 4 team are locked into the playoff field by points and a win, gaining playoff points for a race or stage wins is now their top priority this weekend at Richmond.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion:
Do you have a favorite win at Richmond?
“I remember the ones I lost more than the ones I won. The first one, where Ricky Rudd and I were racing in 2001, was pretty cool. But, as you look back at the last one we won in 2013 as part of a green-white-checkered finish, I think we came from seventh to win, so I didn’t really expect to win that one. The other two were probably fairly strong nights for us.”
Is there a special energy racing under the lights at Richmond in the last race before the playoffs.
“The second Richmond race each year is especially intense just because you know there’s a lot on the line. There are a lot of people racing for different things. It’s the end of our regular season. If you’re not in the playoffs, it’s your last chance to win a race. There are some guys who will probably be fighting for points spots as you go in there, but Richmond is kind of your perfect short track. It has good speed, a short-track feel to it, and the tires wear out. That’s kind of what we all grew up racing on. It’s got a little bit of everything and that makes it a fun place to race.”